Road: Van Dijk victorious in Vlaanderen – GP de Dottignies – Energiewacht Tour – Tour ta’ Malta – Redlands – Women’s Tour of Thailand – Armitstead signs two-year Boels extension – Strava backs Women’s Tour QOM — Other Cycling: “Sexist” sportive flyer withdrawn
Van Dijk victorious in Vlaanderen
It is, bar none, the most prestigious one-day race in women’s cycling, and the combination of jarring cobbles and tough climbs makes it the ultimate Flemish Classic; so, well aware that the big guns were going to ramp up their efforts later on along the route, a lot of riders were driving hard right from the start at the Ronde van Vlaanderen – and there were a lot of crashes as a result.
Numerous attacks came and went during the first half of the race but none got far, the peloton sailing along at a speed sufficiently high to swallow them up usually within tens of seconds. The climbs are an important factor in this race, but the first few didn’t change matters much – Wolvenberg at 42.7km, with its maximum gradient of 17.3%, Molenberg at 50.5km where the Rabo riders were met by a very prestigious soigneur – none other than last year’s winner and the greatest cyclist of the era Marianne Vos was keeping typically humble and handing out the bidons, Leberg at 73.8km, Hostellerie at 78.6km and the Valkenberg at 86.7km.
By Kaperij, at 97.4km, the effects of the high pace maintained right from the start were beginning to tell and the riders must have been looking forward to the feed zone just over the hill at 99.8km, especially knowing that they still faced Kanarieberg at 104.7km and Kruisberg at 113.1km, then extremely difficult cobbled climbs of Oude Kwaremont at 122.9km and Paterberg, the hardest of them all with its 20.3% maximum gradient, at 126.3km. It was on Kruisberg, 27km from the finish, that an attempt to get away finally stuck: either sensing or hearing from a team mate that Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) had been hit by a technical problem, Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) ripped into her opponents with a savage attack that earned her a 40″ advantage at the summit of Paterberg.
Rabobank sent Lucinda Brand and Specialized-Lululemon Tiffany Cromwell to catch her – both fast riders who have proved their ability to hunt down and bring back escapees many times in the past. This time, though, they could not; Van Dijk remained out in front. Emma Johansson, Elise Longo Borghini (Hitec Products) and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans), all favourites for victory, led the peloton and soon caused it to fracture when those that were able accelerated to match them and those that could not began to trail. It wasn’t long before they’d passed Brand and Cromwell, but Van Dijk had as good as won – she was simply too strong to be caught, actually increasing her advantage during the final kilometres and finished the race 1’01” ahead of her team mate Lizzie Armitstead, who fought Emma Johansson to the line.
Armitstead’s time of 3h48’51” allows her to retain the overall lead in the World Cup that she’s held since winning the first round, the Boels Ronde van Drenthe on the 15th of March. Van Dijk, sixth following the Trofeo Binda (the second round that took place on the 31st of March), is now fourth. Johansson won the Trofeo Binda and moved from eighth to third; her third place in Flanders makes her second place overall, trailing Armitstead by 80 points. The next round is La Flèche Wallonne on the 23rd of April, another tough hilly Classic and one where the riders will face an obstacle they’ve not yet had to deal with this year: Marianne Vos, the winner in five of the last seven years, is back following a break from competition.
Ronde van Vlaanderen Top Ten
1 Ellen VAN DIJK (Boels-Dolmans) 3h47’50”
2 Lizzie ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) +1’01”
3 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) ST
4 Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitec Products) +1’03”
5 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank-Liv) ST
6 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Rabobank-Liv) ST
7 Liesbet DE VOCHT (Lotto-Belisol) ST
8 Megan GUARNIER (Boels-Dolmans) ST
9 Tiffany CROMWELL (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
10 Evelyn STEVENS (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
World Cup Standings Top Ten
1 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) 320
2 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) 240
3 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Rabobank-Liv) 220
4 Ellen VAN DIJK (Boels-Dolmans) 195
5 Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitec Products) 130
6 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank-Liv) 120
7 Alena AMIALIUSIK (Astana-BePink) 85
8 Shelley OLDS (Ale-Cipollini) 85
9 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv) 80
10 Chantal BLAAK (Specialized-Lululemon) 70
GP de Dottignies
If you’d just spent your Sunday dealing variously with the sort of cobbles that make bits fall off your bike and climbs as steep as 20%, you’d probably want to spend Monday in bed, right? Coming right after the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the GP de Dottignies on the 7th of April gives the French-speaking Walloons a chance to see some women’s cycling action – and as it’s hotly contested by riders who missed out on the big Flemish race or served as domestiques as well as being the third round of the Lotto Cup, it usually offers some gripping action and lots more cobbles. Last year, a break got away in the final part of the race before Vera Koedooder (then with Sengers) managed to spin out her advantage and reached the finish just 6″ ahead of Iris Slappendel (Rabobank-Liv) for first place.
The parcours has been changed considerably from last year and is now 131km rather than 113.7km, consisting of one 59km route followed by four laps of a 14.4km circuit rather than four laps of a 28.44km circuit. There are four difficult climbs, all with GPM points, along the big loop; the circuit is flat but features a difficult 0.6km cobbled section each time the riders cross the finish line in Dottignies – making life even more difficult for the riders, because this section also serves as the intermediate sprint.
We’ll have results and a report as soon as possible.
Ask a random selection of cycling fans and you’ll soon discover that most of them prefer races with plenty of big, tough climbs. So why is it, then, that the Energiewacht Tour – which takes place in one of the flattest parts of the famously flat Netherlands – has become one of the most popular races in women’s cycling?
The answer, it turns out, is simple: the organisers understand that if they want fans to follow their race, they need to get as much information out there as possible. Fed up with not having a clue what’s going on, and then waiting days for the results to appear online (if they ever do at all)? Then this is the race for you – all you need to do to be kept up-to-date on all the action is follow @ewachttour on Twitter.
This year, the first stage (of six in total, over five days) is on the 9th of April and the race will cover 562.7km – with the exception of the time trial stage, all stages consist of multiple laps of long circuits, offering the advantages of criterium-style racing with the spectacle of point-to-point. As if that’s not enough, Energiewacht offers two races: starting on the 11th and ending on the 13th, Junior riders compete on the same circuits.
Tour ta’ Malta
British riders and teams have been dominating the Tour ta’ Malta, taking no fewer than 39 of the top ten places over four stages – full stage results are available on the official website.
Team GBCycles.co.uk took part, with their rider Jo Blakely taking third overall. The team has some reports and photographs online.
Tour ta’ Malta Top Ten
1 Mathilde Mathjsse (Bonito Squadra Corse)
2 Mathilde Pauls (Fusion RT)
3 Jo Blakely (Team GBCycles.co.uk)
4 Maxine Filby (Trek Bicycle Coventry)
5 Danica Bonello Spiteri (Team Greens)
6 Alice Cobb (Squadra Donne)
7 Lauren Therin (Bonito Squadra Corse)
8 Keira McVitty (Bonito Squadra Corse)
9 Brit Tate (Team GBCycles.co.uk)
10 Eve Dixon (Team GBCycles.co.uk)
United Healthcare had, it seemed, spent a lot of time planning tactics for the Redlands Criterium – their protected rider Alison Powers was able to take the lead early on in the race and retained it going into the penultimate lap, and it looked as though they had victory in the bag when their riders came together and started applying serious pressure to other teams.
Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies had other ideas and put their own plans – designed to scupper those of UHC – into practice: knowing that Leah Kirchmann is a faster sprinter than UHC’s Alison Powers, they also came together and led the Canadian rider to the end of the final lap, overtaking their rivals and forcing a bunch sprint they knew Kirchmann could win. Powers put in a stirling effort to regain control but was simply unable to match Kirchmann for sheer explosive strength.
Kirchmann had previously taken third place in the first round of the stage race that marks the start of the Classic, coming just behind Lauren Stephens (Tibco) and Karol-Ann Canuel (Specialized-Lululemon). Powers then blitzed the Stage 2 individual time trial, setting a time of 16’22” that gave her a 35″ overall advantage over Kirchmann. However, using time bonuses in Stage 3 to her advantage, Kirchmann chipped away at Powers’ lead in the third and final stage and ended up 9″ ahead overall. Unfortunately for her, that wasn’t nearly enough to survive Tayler Wiles’ efforts in the Sunset Road race, the final round: first, Specialized-Lululemon team mate Ally Stacher set up an exquisitely-timed break that forced rival squads to expend more energy than they’d have liked, and then when Wiles (Specialized-Lululemon) saw Mara Abbott (UHC) attack she knew an opportunity had fallen into her lap and went off after her. She didn’t need to win the stage, but realising that’s what Abbott meant to do a deal was done – they shared the work, Abbott got the stage and Wiles turned the 29″ disadvantage with which she’d started the stage into an overall victory. Abbott’s stage win netted her second place overall, while Kirchmann took the lowest step on the podium with third.
The Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhon’s Cup “Women’s Tour of Thailand”
The UCI have been keen to globalise road cycling in recent years, and their attempts to establish the sport outside its European homeland (and, in recent years, the USA and Australia) have met with varying degrees of success. One event does seem to be in good health is the The Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhon’s Cup, also known as the Women’s Tour of Thailand: now in its third year, the 2.2-rated event draws a good field of riders from Far Eastern nations and is closely followed by Western teams looking for potential new “finds” – such as Mayuko Hagiwara, who took second place overall for Cycle Base Asahi in 2012 before being snapped up by Wiggle-Honda, where she’s now team mate to some of the biggest names in the sport including Olympic Champions Dani King, Laura Trott and Jo Rowsell and two-time World Road Race Champion Giorgia Bronzini.
The race doesn’t seem to have gained a website again this year, which really ought to be one of the first thing organisers do if they want fans around the world to pay attention (and probably should be a requirement if they want a UCI race classification, too). We’ll have results and news here as and when details become available.
Armitstead signs two-year Boels extension
Current British National Champion Lizzie Armitstead has signed a two-year extension to her contract with Boels-Dolmans, the team for which she’s ridden since the start of last season.
It’s an interesting development: Boels, a plant hire company, has made an enormous commitment to women’s cycling and gives every indication that it will continue to invest for the foreseeable future, which has given the team a rare opportunity to focus on long-term goals and projects rather than needing to be prepared for the end-of-season scramble to secure new backing as experienced by all too many teams when a sponsor pulls out. Lizzie, of course, was the closest rider to gold-winning Marianne Vos at the Olympics in 2012; her extended contract leads her up to the Rio Games, in a team that she can be confident will back her all the way.
The team has also extended directeur sportif Danny Stam’s contract for a further two years – the ex-European Madison champion has been working with Armitstead since 2012.
Strava backs Women’s Tour QOM
Strava, the hugely popular cycling and running GPS tracker that logs times allowing cyclists (and runners) to analyse performances and compare them to those of friends (and rivals), has announced that it is to sponsor the Queen of the Mountains competition at the Women’s Tour,
In addition to guaranteeing decent prizes for the competition, this is further good news for women’s cycling: for many years, teams and races have experienced difficulties in securing sponsors – but Strava is one of many big names to get behind the sport in 20145.
Bravery on a bike in Afghanistan (ESPN-W)
Haute Wheels: the women’s cycling team hosted in family’s home (The Press Enterprise)
Lauren Hall on cobbled wins and her future in racing (VeloNews)
Wiggle-Honda’s team mechanic – interview (Bike Radar)
“Sexist” sportive flyer withdrawn
The Velo29 Endeavour Sportive has decided to withdraw flyers advertising the event, due to take place in the North-East this July as part of a cycling festival, after facing accusations of sexism – the flyer featured an image of a male cyclist with the words “Sarah’s shopping in Sexton with the girls. I’ve signed up for Sexton’s Sportive. That’s Saturday sorted.”
This was, with some justification, thought by many to imply that the event was open to men only, and that women are not interested in cycling – rather a faux pas on the behalf of Stockton Council, which is organising the event, as it also features an Elite women’s race and mass-participation rides open to all.
The flyer, which cost £500 to design, will be replaced.